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Food is Love
February 2006
By Linda Kavanagh

Ben & Jack’s Steak House
I’m in the mood for…love? Sure, but what I’d really like for Valentine’s Day is a fabulous dinner with my sweetheart. No prix-fixe special menus, no “red rose for all the ladies”, and please no heart-shaped tomato flan concoction. When I think of having dinner with my boyfriend, I think of our favorite foods and favorite places. Perhaps someplace we haven’t been to in a while or a food we haven’t indulged in since our last romantic celebration. For us, every meal is about sharing. We order a little of this, some of that, and often have dessert at home. Valentine’s Day is nothing fancy, but it is all about us.

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Being the carnivores that we are, a great steak restaurant is always a treat. Ben & Jack’s Steak House was created by brothers Ben and Jack Sinanaj and their cousin Russ Sinanaj. The ensemble had previously worked together at Peter Luger’s for close to ten years before opening their dream restaurant. This unique steak house is untraditional in its atmosphere, yet traditional when it comes to the food. This is no “men’s club” by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, the dining room is alive with (lots) women, couples, and family and friends who have gathered for a good meal. Loosen up the tie, as this place is casual, lively, and elegant, yet not pretentious. Charming floral cushion high-back chairs, comforting rich mahogany tones, vibrant red carpet, and glass-paneled partitions adorn the dining room.

We are looked after by Ben & Jack’s gracious team. While enjoying our 2004 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir, we peruse the menu. But, why? We know what we want, we’ve been craving it all day, just about everything on the menu that states “for 2” beside it.

We begin with the soon-to-be-famous Ben & Jack salad comprised of chopped shrimp, tomato, onion, and warm thick bacon chunks. Everything was so fresh with lots of contrasting flavors that the Ben & Jack sauce that was meant to go with it went untouched. An icy cold seafood platter had us at “hello” – a 1 pound split lobster, 4 meaty shrimp, and jumbo lump crab meat were all fresh, sweet, and delicious. Simple things done right are the best.

Out comes the weaponry, we know our steak is set to arrive. And so it does, on a sizzling platter, with its juices swishing about. Cut tableside, our 44 oz Porterhouse (sirloin and tenderloin) is perfectly cooked and tender with that wonderful char covering it. We opted for the creamed spinach and sautéed mushrooms with onions, and a large baked potato, which we enthusiastically smothered with butter. Boy, was that good! Sometimes you just gotta have it. Like this entire meal, we had to have it.

Ben & Jack’s Steak House
219 East 44th Street, Between 2nd & 3rd Avenue,
New York
(212) 682-5678


Two Great Choices for Dim Sum
Good Chinese dim sum is a delicacy and is a style of food that means to be shared. While there are numerous Chinese restaurants serving dumplings, spring rolls, and the like, a true dim sum experience, push cart and all, is best experienced in the heart of China Town on Manhattan’s lower East side. Dim sum, a peasant food served primarily for breakfast, brunch or lunch, consists of over 100 “finger foods” served off pushcarts that make their way through oversized dining rooms filled with large groups of people, often sitting for hours at a time while picking on various dim sum varieties. True to form, many dim sum items are either steamed in bamboo or deep-fried. If you are one of those who enjoy ordering off of the left side (appetizers) of a Chinese menu, you will most likely love the dim sum experience. Pushcart upon pushcart wheel by with tantalizing morsels such as:

- Shrimp Dumplings (har gow) – shrimp filling, wrapped in translucent rice-flour skin in a half-moon shape.

- Steamed Barbeque Pork Buns (char siu bau) –fluffy white rice flour buns filled with sweet pork meat.

- Sweet Silken Tofu (dau fu fa) – fresh silken tofu served warm with a sweet syrup, often for dessert.

- Fried Turnip Cakes (lo bak gao) – mashed turnip cake with dried shrimp and pork, served with oyster sauce.

- Spare Ribs in Black Bean Sauce (pai gwat) – bite size spare ribs marinated and steamed in black bean sauce.

Two popular dim sum dining rooms are the modern Golden Bridge Restaurant, and the more traditional neighborhood gathering place, Jing Song. Jing Song seats over 1,000 people and is often used for large Chinese banquette dinners and weddings. The ornate décor consists of large chandeliers, golden dragons, red velvet, and walls strewn with messages of wealth, proseprity, and longevity. Golden Bridge, however, is a more modern interpretation, with large flat screen TV’s about, and a split dining room which can accomodate banquettes for well over 1,500 people – often serving dim sum to over 5,000 people on the weekend. With 4,000 square feet of kitchen space, and crowds that size, that’s an awful lot of pork buns!

Golden Bridge Restaurant
50 Bowery
New York
(212) 227-8831

Jing Song
20 Elizabeth Street at Canal Street
New York
(212) 964-5256


English is Italian
As a food writer I am admittedly spoiled when it comes to partaking in tasting menus. We love lingering over course after course, paired with this wine and that. Fortunately, this style of dining is no longer just for us lucky writers. English is Italian was introduced to us by some friends who brought us there for a three-hour lunch! This Italian style restaurant concept is designed around three courses: antipasti, pasta, and fish and meat. The beauty of it all is the fresh, daily changing menu, multiple dishes per course, the combination of contemporary and classic preparations, and its stylish décor and great service. The bi-level interior is sleek and sexy. The display kitchen is not overpowering to the room and there’s a peacefulness that allows you to melt into your surroundings.

While this is a Todd English restaurant, it is Executive Chef Robert Gonsalves and Chef Isaac Carter that lead the kitchen with precision and creativity. There is an option for two courses ($34), but we went for the three courses ($39). Crispy crostini bread with chicken liver pate, carrot tapenade, and artichoke guacamole set the stage for the night. A series of “insalata" dishes (eggplant caponata, braised fennel, and roasted beets) are scooped onto your plate alongside plates of antipasti which included a torte rustica (think Easter pie minus the prosciutto) with pear salad, delectable lamb ribs with green olive and goat cheese creama, and deep fried mushroom arancini (rice balls) with Calabrese aioli. All were tasty and rather decadent. For a special surprise for your loved one, I recommend ordering the house made buffalo mozzarella, prepared (and pulled) tableside and topped with sautéed sun dried tomatoes, garlic, and basil.

Next is the pasta course. Baked Bolognese lasagna was very good but I’m glad I saved room for the broccoli rabe risotto with calamari fra diavalo and chickpea cream. It was a mouthwatering combination. Butternut squash agnolotti with brown butter and sage was feather light and silky, and the carbonara tagliatelle with mushrooms and peas had a wonderful woodsy flavor, well reserved from the mushrooms. We forged ahead with the third course (after a small breather – also known as wine) with pan-seared salmon with crispy skin topped with apple butter. “Forty clove chicken” was simply baked like my Mom’s, and the braised fall-off-the-bone lamb shanks were served with a spicy cabbage slaw. Refreshing homemade Gelato and sorbets are a perfect ending as anything more is overkill. Word to the wise: You’ll be tempted to eat it all, but don’t. Meet your sweetheart at the fridge at midnight for leftovers…

English is Italian
622 Third Avenue
New York
(212) 404-1700
www.chinagrillmanagement.com or www.toddenglish.com


Taste, the brainchild of New York City food guru Eli Zabar, has given birth to a self-serve café by day and wine bar by night, adjacent to Eli’s Manhattan, his famous gourmet market. Chef Scott Bieber creates flavor-driven New American menus that change frequently and incorporate Eli’s world of the finest and freshest produce, seafood, and meat available to him. A small plate menu offers dinners a chance to experience many different flavors and pair them with a rotating selection of 30 wines served in both tasting servings and by the glass.

Roasted spicy mussels with Italian sausage, pizzetta with red onion, figs and blue cheese, swordfish pillard with salsa verde, and even Eli’s toasted cheese and tomato sandwich come with intriguing wine recommendations. The ever-changing dinner menu highlights the best market fresh items such as wild salmon with roasted root vegetables, Stone Church Farm poussin with soft polenta and collard greens, and roasted whole branzine with asparagus and grapefruit tapenade. A cheese cart of twenty or so perfectly ripened cheeses is also a real treat for those experimenting with the many wines by the glass.

Winemaker dinners and other special wine-focused events are part of what makes this restaurant a special experience.

1413 3rd Avenue at 80th Street
New York
(212) 717-9798


Linda Pernice Kavanagh
MaxEx Public Relations, LLC

102 Alton Road
Stamford, CT 06906
P 203.323.4185 F 4183


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